SOUTH Africa may not have the high-speed broadband of leading industrial nations, nor the tech start-up culture that has given birth to global giants. But in the virtual world of cloud computing, local enterprises have been credited with reaching a level of maturity similar to those in the US and UK.
There is a startling secret to this maturity, but let’s first look at the shape of the cloud across the world.
It is split up into countries that are emerging cloud users, those that have taken up the cloud as a virtual platform for computing services, and those that are making the transition to the virtual data centre. The latter is referred to as the software-defined data centre, meaning that the shape of data centres is not dictated by the hardware that hosts data, but by the software that manages that data.
“South Africa is very mature and similar to Western markets like France, Germany and the UK, which have to transition from a virtual platform to a virtual data centre,” said Jean-Pierre Brulard, vice president for southern Europe, the Middle East and Africa for global cloud market leaders VMware.
Speaking at the company’s annual VMworld conference in Barcelona, he pointed out that, while the rest of Africa was still emerging into the cloud, there were also two distinct types of markets on the continent beyond South Africa.
“The most educated African markets, Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt and Morocco, are leapfrogging from nothing into the cloud world, and growing rapidly — following a similar path to Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.”
It is split up into countries that are emerging cloud users, those that have taken up the cloud as a virtual platform for computing services, and those that are making the transition to the virtual data centre.
VMware has established permanent offices in those countries, but South Africa remains the major destination for its investment on the continent. Aside from being a strong market in its own right, it serves as a springboard into neighbouring states.
This may sound counter-intuitive to those who believe South Africa is not ready for the cloud due to bandwidth constraints. However, major enterprises tend to be connected via high-speed fibre optic cables, and have long left behind the world of slow broadband.
But there is another secret to cloud maturity that comes down to a word not normally associated with technology: culture.
VMware president and chief operating officer Carl Eschenbach offered a surprisingly simple reason: leading countries for cloud adoption are mostly English-speaking.
“Cloud uptake is happening in a very similar way in most English-speaking environments,” he said. “We see similar adoption of cloud computing happening in countries like the US, UK, Australia and South Africa. One reason is that companies that emerge in English-speaking countries try to take on a global footprint.
“The biggest difference in uptake, once you move out of the US, is the level of security concern and data sovereignty issues, which means data can’t cross borders.”
He cites Germany, the Nordic countries and Asia-Pacific territories, which are highly sophisticated technology users, but have been held back in cloud maturity by legislation that requires data to stay on-premise.
This is a primary motivation for VMware deciding to build a data centre in Germany. But this in itself won’t change cloud culture, said Eschenbach.
“Over time, when people become more confident in the security aspects of the cloud, you’ll see local service providers entering markets and addressing data sovereignty by building localised data centres.”